July 26, 2011

Lunch with Timothy Zahn & Shelly Shapiro

Obligatory fan picture!
I don't often win drawings, contests, or raffles. Except lately. Suvudu held a contest for three people to win the opportunity to have lunch with author Timothy Zahn and editor Shelly Shapiro at San Diego Comic-Con. I crossed my fingers, entered, and tried not to obsess over it. When an email notification popped up in the corner of my desktop at work that said "Lunch with Tim Zahn," I might have squee'd loudly enough for everyone in my office to look my way. I couldn't believe I'd won.

If you're not familiar with the name Timothy Zahn, he's a talented author (that's the understatement of the year). He's written several Star Wars books, including (and starting with) the Thrawn trilogy that pretty much spawned the modern generation of Expanded Universe books. For the love of Ewoks, this is the guy that created Mara Jade! Shelly Shapiro is an editor at Del Rey, and she's in charge of the Star Wars fiction. She's grabbed authors and helped shape the most beloved novels of the Star Wars EU. Yeah. I know.

I met up with the other two winners - one of whom flew in from Indiana just for the lunch - at the Hilton Bayfront. We talked nervously until Mr. Zahn and Ms. Shapiro arrived. We took seats at the restaurant, nd the three of us (the winners) were smiling ear to ear. Mr. Zahn and Ms. Shapiro took the time to chat with us about whatever we wanted. One of the group came prepared with a list of a questions. I should have been that prepared, but I was just excited to be there. I also didn't want to slip into reporter mode. So I winged it. Between the three of us we asked about the editing process, how the character of Thrawn was created, how to get a foot in the editorial door, the issues with long series and different authors, playing in George's driveway, writing characters that other authors have created, and so many other tidbits that were washed away in the sheer excitement of sitting at that table. I know I'm not the first person to ask about Thrawn, but I couldn't help it. Zahn wanted to create a character that commanded by loyalty rather than fear, and he knew it had to be an alien (so it would be more impressive that he was a Grand Admiral, given the Emperor's disdain for aliens). He had a few other components and from them, Thrawn was born.

We promised to carry more than a couple of topics to our graves, but a few things were left open. I'm jazzed about this one: Mr. Zahn expressed an interest in writing an episode or a three story arc for The Clone Wars. He hasn't talked to Dave Filoni yet, and I won't say the idea he has in mind - but it's fantastic. It would fit, and fans would flip out. Another point of interest is something he always wanted to work into a novel but hasn't been permitted to include: he thought it would be neat for the Emperor to allude to the Death Star being built to use as a weapon against the threat of the Yuuzhan Vong.

We moved from the restaurant to a quieter lounge area, and Leland Chee (Keeper of the Holocron at Lucasfilm) wandered by. And then he sat down to talk with us. That man has an astounding memory. Shapiro asked about x, y, or z, and Chee would pause for just a minute before filling in the details around each point.

One of my favorite parts of the lunch was listening to Mr. Zahn pitch ideas to Ms. Shapiro about [redacted] and hearing the back and forth conversation. It was by turns inspiring and exciting. He even spun a new idea in front of us. Ahh! I love hearing other people talk passionately about Star Wars, and when it's people that have hands in books I stay up late reading... it was surreal.

Once in a lifetime opportunity is the phrase that goes here, and it's appropriate.

Read about the lunch from another winner's point of view.

Thanks to Suvudu and Del Rey for holding the contest, and thanks to Shelly Shapiro, Timothy Zahn, and Leland Chee for being so generous with their time.


  1. Interesting to note that Thrawn's alienness as a counter to the Emperor's dislike for aliens. While the Empire was shown to be humans-only in the films (and that could be more a film production thing) (and early EU had Wookiees be slaves building the Death Star), I think Zahn was the first to actually mention the Emperor's general policy of speciesism)

  2. I am very curious about what they said regarding that "foot in the door".

  3. How cool is that? They couldn't have picked a perfect winner. Makes me want to go back and read the Thrawn trilogy again. :)

  4. did his idea for CW happen to include a young Captain named...... Pellaeon?

  5. WOW! You're right...once in a lifetime. The Clone Wars idea has my head spinning...Thank you for sharing your experience with us!

  6. @JawaJames - Ah, I didn't know that hadn't been brought up before.

    @Peregrine John - Shelly talked a lot about it as one member of our group wants to be an editor. She said it was a lot of being in the right place at the right time. She happened to fall in with The Science Fiction Book Club at the right time and that started the path. She advised putting in resumes and if you haven't heard anything in months, there's no harm in checking in to see if aything is available.

    @Trude - It was an amazing experience. Man, I wish I could have that kind of lunch every week.

    @william - Ahhh, I wish I could say!

    @Trish - So humbling to sit there and just listen to them go on! :D

  7. Lunch with Timothy Zahn! That must have been awesome. I remember reading his trilogy when I was in high school, and I was thrilled that he actually replied to a fan letter that I sent.

    I also asked about Thrawn, who has to be the best of the EU characters. I seem to recall that he wrote that the name was taken from Scottish, where it means twisted. Zahn wrote that originally Thrawn was to have been twisted by the anti-alien sentiment in the empire, hence the name.

    A lot of the names in Zahn's stories are meaningful and I think he had a lot of fun creating them. Mara means bitter in Hebrew, Sturm and Drang mean storm and stress in German, and I have always felt that Pellaeon's name owes something to the Palaeologus, the last ruling dynasty of the Byzantine empire.

    Thanks for giving me a flashback to some of my favorite books of the 90s!

  8. So did they ask you what you wanted to see in future books? I was one of the winners when they held another contest for Dragon*Con, and that was something they asked us.

  9. Dooku - They didn't ask us specifically to think about it before the lunch, but it came up once we were there.

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